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Birth Parent Search

Martha Jane Shideler sits Monday at the Campus Coffee Bean in Flagstaff. Shideler has written a book about her search for her birth parents. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Jake Bacon

In the middle of winter in 1984, local bookseller Martha Shideler was sitting behind the counter at Aradia, her bookstore on West Cottage Avenue in Flagstaff.

It was a spot she always favored because she could greet customers as they entered the store.

The little bell on the door jingled as two men in cowboy shirts, jeans and boots entered.

What might seem like an ordinary event to most people was earth-shaking to Shideler.

"One of them asked, 'Are you Martha?' I said, 'Yes,' and before they said anything, I said, 'Oh my God, you're my brother!' For the first time in my life, I actually looked at someone I was related to by blood, and that was at age 43 -- 43 years of not knowing, of having this missing piece."

Shideler said she knew because of their eyes that the two men, Mickey and Jack Foster, were the brothers she had never met.

"My eyes are unique," she explained. "They're blue-green and have a kind of dark ring around the iris. They both had the same eyes."

They were also short and had blond-brown hair, like Shideler.

NEVER GIVING UP

Six weeks after she was born on Nov. 15, 1940, at the Florence Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers, Shideler was adopted by Richard and Marjorie Shideler of Los Angeles.

Although her adopted parents were kind, and she was loved and well cared for, she always felt the presence of that "missing piece," the knowing about her birth parents.

Shideler, now 71, has just published a book about her 27-year search for her birth family, "Coming Together -- An Adoptee's Story," published by TigerEye Publications.

The book was released Oct. 18, just in time for November, which is National Adoption Month, dedicated in 1995 to raise awareness about adoption. The recent death of Steve Jobs, also an adoptee, heightened that awareness.

"I am one of the 5 to 8 million individuals who were adopted as children or infants in the U.S. over the past century. Being adopted has profoundly affected my life -- in ways that I am -- seven decades later -- still coming to terms with," the author wrote on Page 3 in her book.

Since age 17, when she got her driver's license, Shideler worked like a sleuth with exhaustive research in her hunt for her birth parents, especially her mother.

She never gave up, despite countless dead-ends and obstacles.

"It doesn't stop for the adoptees after they're adopted," Shideler said. "There are all these other aspects. There's this damn secrecy. Even criminals have more rights."

Added Shideler: "We're the only U.S. citizens who don't have the right to our own birth certificates."

The author, who operated Aradia for almost 30 years before it closed, has always loved writing and has another book, "Caitlin: Priestess of the Goddess," a fictional account of a girl in pre-Druidic Ireland.

Her interest in all things Celtic, which began early in life, accelerated after she found out about her Scottish roots as a McDonald through her birth mother's side.

Today, she is well-known in Flagstaff for her devotion to playing the bagpipes.

"I had been hoping I was some sort of Celtic ancestry," she said.

MOTHER SAVED FOOTPRINT

The arrival in Flagstaff of the Foster brothers, who are full brothers to each other but half-brothers to Shideler, did not come as a complete surprise to Shideler.

After finding her birth mother, Ester Scott, on Friday, Jan. 13, 1984, Shideler had talked with her on the phone and exchanged letters and photos.

"After we made the phone contact, my birth mother sent me some pictures," Shideler related. "It was the moment when everything came together. I couldn't put them down. I took them in the bath. I really look more like her family and her ancestors."

The brothers, who both lived in Marana, Ariz., at the time, had been told by their mother that they had a sister in Flagstaff.

Until her death in 1998, Scott lived in Chesaning, Mich., and Shideler flew to visit with her there.

She also learned the brothers had another sister, Judy (Foster) Whalen, who has since died of lung cancer.

"There was one thing my birth mother had saved of me," Shideler said. "She saved that footprint of me they made at birth. My sister Judy found that."

She was delighted to find she was similar to her mother and others in her family.

"One thing we discovered, we had things in common, like she wrote poetry, and I like to write," she said. "And one of my brothers is a musician. All these little things we found, not only did we look alike, we had things in common I had not had with my adopted family."

She said she learned even more.

"I had the chance to find out how much is environment and how much is heredity," Shideler said. "There's an amazing amount of both that contributed to my reality. An adoptee has the right know both."

LONG STORY, SHORTENED

Shideler's birth story first began in 1939 in California.

Ester Delia Foster was estranged from her husband in Michigan at the time she met Shideler's birth father, Al Walters, when they both were residents at the Pullman Hotel in downtown Burbank, Calif.

Her two oldest children, Mickey and Judy, stayed behind with their father, but little Jack was with his mother in California.

Ester and Al fell in love but didn't marry because she feared divorce and losing custody of her children.

She became pregnant, and the couple decided the best option was entering the Crittenden home, where her care would be inexpensive -- and free if she put her baby up for adoption.

They named the baby Kathleen, but after Al dropped her off at the home, Ester never saw him again.

Eventually, and reluctantly, she put her baby up for adoption.

The Shidelers, who had lost a stillborn infant, adopted the baby and renamed her Martha Jane Shideler, after Marjorie's mother.

The long tale of Shideler's search is best read in the book.

She is still in touch with all of the living relatives she met through her birth mother.

The hunt for her father was less happy and ended in a graveyard.

However through her father's side, she did find a half-sister, Katherine, and a half-brother, Ted.

"They were very secretive," Shideler said. "I don't even know where my father was born -- Canada, Georgia, Florida or somewhere else. I'm only in Christmas-card contact ever since I found them."

Soon after finding her birth mother, Shideler began her adoptee book.

"It took 27 years start to get published, which is exactly how long it took me to find my birth family," Shideler said.

Betsey Bruner can be reached at bbruner@azdailysun.com or 556-2255.

WHAT: "Coming Together -- An Adoptee's Story," by Martha Shideler

164 pages (softcover), TigerEye Publications, 2011, Springdale, Ark., $12.95

TO BUY: Amazon.com, or from the publisher at www.TigerEyePubs.com

INFO: To reach the author, visit Coming Together: an Adoptee's Story/Facebook

Details about adoption

November is National Adoption Month. To learn more about all aspects of adoption,

visit www.childwelfare.gov/adoption, a website of the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services.

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